Iran’s Islamic judicial system, where notions of justice and blood money are inextricably linked, engenders impossible choices for the stubbornly determined characters of “Beautiful City.” A crusade to win a reprieve for a young man about to be executed runs up against an implacable thirst for vengeance in this improbable love story helmed by Asghar Farhadi. Fascinating glimpse into wholly different body of laws, engrossingly evolving script and standout perfs, including Taraneh Alidoosti’s (“I’m Taraneh, 15”), make “City” more accessible to arthouse auds than more stylistically challenging Farsi fare.
Pic opens in a juvenile detention facility on an inmate’s 18th birthday, which marks his ascension to manhood and his transfer to an adult prison to await execution for slaying his girlfriend when he was 16. His only chance of obtaining a commuted sentence is if the relatives of the slain girl ask for clemency for her killer.
Bulk of pic traces the diligent efforts of the best friend, Ala (Babak Ansari), a thief let out a couple of months early by a sympathetic official so he could intercede for his prison pal, and the murderer’s sister (Alidoosti), a young divorcee with a child, to sway an unrelentingly bitter old man bent on revenge.
As so often in Iranian cinema, Farhadi’s sophomore outing (after his much-touted “Dancing in the Dust”) launches a simple-seeming quest through all manner of obstacles and complications, each detour greatly altering the nature of the journey. Ala suddenly finds himself half-responsible for a woman and child and locked in complicated negotiations not only with the intractable father (Faramarz Gharibian), but also with his sympathetic second wife (Ahoo Kheradmand) and a Muslim cleric recruited to the cause.
Situation is rendered infinitely more complex when money enters the equation. According to Muslim law, the blood price for a woman is half that of a man, so the dead girl’s father must pay the difference between the simple worth of his daughter and the double worth of her killer. Ala and the sister offer to pay compensation (that they can’t afford), money that could be used to finance an operation for the father’s crippled stepdaughter.
Meanwhile, Ala is falling hard for his best friend’s independent sister, who herself comes with a lot of baggage, including an ex-husband junkie. Farhadi deftly allows the love story to organically flow from their joint mission.
Magnificent thesping by all concerned traces a tragicomic round robin of displaced love with justice for none. Ali Loghmani’s crisp lensing brings light and clarity to characters’ humble surroundings.